During the CAGNY conference in Florida, Food Dive talked to food executives to gain insight into how CPG companies are positioning their businesses to tap into growth areas amid rapid changes in consumer tastes. This is the fifth in a five-part series. Click here to read the previous stories on McCormick & Co., Tyson Foods, Campbell Soup and Hormel.
As consumer schedules become increasingly hectic, demand for convenient, ready-to-eat meal solutions — or "food anywhere" — shows no sign of slowing down. The rapid shift has not only challenged manufacturers, restaurants and grocery retailers to develop competitive on-the-go offerings, it's also created a lucrative market opportunity for companies such as Ingredion to supply ingredients to maintain the appearance and texture of these products.
Grab-and-go, as well as food ordered online, is now a $110 billion global category, Ingredion CEO Jim Zallie told analysts at the annual Consumer Analyst Group of New York conference last week. Between 2015 and 2016, purchases of these items grew 56% in the U.S., he said.
"Why is that relevant to an ingredients company?" Zallie asked the audience. "Because the stresses and strains of getting a high-quality product delivered that has the right texture, that maintains heat [and] maintains crispiness is dependent on the ingredient technology."
Jorgen Kokke, Ingredion's North American president, told Food Dive the 112-year-old company — which supplies more than 1,000 ingredients to food, beverage and personal care industries in more than 120 countries — has relied on its deep knowledge of texture to meet these consumer expectations.
"This is where Ingredion comes in with its rice flours, tapioca flours [and] corn flours that are functionalized with our proprietary technologies," Kokke said. "Our ingredients ensure that the product maintains its appearance and texture both before as well as after eating."
"The stresses and strains of getting a high-quality product delivered that has the right texture, that maintains heat [and] maintains crispiness is dependent on the ingredient technology,"
President and CEO, Ingredion
Kokke said rice-based ingredients offer impressive product stability, and are able to withstand multiple heat cycles as food travels from restaurants or grocery delis to the consumer's home.
Ingredion expanded its reach across the texturizer category — which represents about 25%, or $40 billion of the entire food ingredients space — with an acquisition of Sun Flour Industry Co., a rice starch and flour business based in Thailand, in 2016. It also purchased TIC Gums, a manufacturer of texturizers and gums such as acacia and guar, that year for $400 million.
"There's a lot of headroom for growth for Ingredion in this market," Kokke said. "This [acquisition of TIC Gums]... gave us better access to small and medium-sized [manufacturers] that are innovating and growing in this world of 'food anywhere'."
Texture is crucial when it comes to on-the-go convenience foods, but this demand also reflects a broader consumer interest in complex product consistencies and mouthfeel. According to Kokke, there has been a 91% increase of on-pack texture claims over the past five years.
"I think the sensoric properties, or the eating quality of food, is always important," he said. "We can talk about health trends... We can talk about cost and affordability and sustainability, but underneath all of that, [food] always has to taste good and be fun. And that's where texture comes in. ... We say it's as important as flavor."
"We can talk about cost and affordability and sustainability, but underneath all of that, [food] always has to taste good and be fun. And that's where texture comes in. ... We say it's as important as flavor.""
EVP specialty ingredients and president of North America, Ingredion
Zallie told the CAGNY audience that Ingredion has found pockets of growth in the "refrigerated fresh" space, and in breakfast sandwiches specifically, as a result of consumer interest in dynamic texture profiles and shelf stability. This demand has pushed the fresh prepared food category to generate $25 billion in sales annually, according to market research firm Supermarket Guru.
Kokke said that in addition to manufacturers, Ingredion also works with retailers to develop ready-to-eat meals and other in-store food products.
Demand for engaging and stable sensory experiences in on-the-go foods hasn't overshadowed consumer interest in clean label, however.
"The clean and simple trend, which we've seen grow over the last ten years or so ... is also relevant for the [food anywhere] trend, and that's, of course, where Ingredion has been playing for a long time," he said.
Kokke added that Ingredion's roster of cost-effective, functional and clean-label modified starches make the ingredients firm a valuable partner for food industry players looking to adapt to the "food anywhere" trend.
“Sixty-two percent of consumers read the ingredient label to make sure that the ingredients in that product are something they recognize, that are familiar to them, that suggest a clean label," Zallie told analysts. "Ingredients can drive purchase intent."